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Published: Thursday, 3/13/2014 - Updated: 9 months ago

PEACH WEEKENDER

Jam session inspires ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

Show captures the night 4 giants of music came together in a Memphis recording studio

BY SUE BRICKEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The national tour of ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ comes to the Stranahan Theater starting March 20. The national tour of ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ comes to the Stranahan Theater starting March 20.
JEREMY DANIEL Enlarge

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins got together one night in 1956 in a small Memphis recording studio and ended up making rock and roll history. Now, their story and their music rock on in the national tour of Million Dollar Quartet, a musical that will raise the roof of the Stranahan Theater beginning March 20 as part of its Broadway in Toledo series.

The story begins on Dec. 4, 1956, when the four future icons happened to end up at the same time in the recording studio at Sun Records in Memphis. Sun Studio was owned by Sam Phillips, who had helped launch their careers. The famous impromptu jam session inspired the hit Million Dollar Quartet, which opened on Broadway in 2010 and won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical and Tony nominations for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical. It is directed by Eric Schaeffer and written by Colin Escott, a music historian and author of Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records & the Birth of Rock & Roll, and Floyd Mutrux.

Scott Moreau, who plays Johnny Cash in the production coming to Toledo, has been a fan of the late performer for about 12 years, so in some ways he’s been preparing for his role for quite awhile. About a year ago, when the show was in Memphis, Moreau stepped into Sun Studio (which is a museum by day and a functioning recording studio at night) and recorded an album, Home of the Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash at Sun Studio.

“I went and stood exactly where [Cash] and the Tennessee Two stood to make their first record there,” Moreau said in a telephone interview. “When you walk in there, you can feel the weight of what’s happened in that room, and the people who have passed through there. Million Dollar Quartet gives the audience the ability to be a fly on the wall and see what it might have been like to be there and watch four [future stars] just being everyday guys,” he added. “They’re all young guys — Johnny Cash was the oldest and he’s 24 — all at the beginning of their careers, and how often can you really look back in history and see that?”

Moreau, who plays rhythm guitar, and cast members John Countryman (portraying Jerry Lee Lewis, piano), Lee Ferris (as Carl Perkins, lead guitar), and Tyler Hunter (Elvis, also rhythm guitar) function as a band onstage, playing their own instruments. They are joined by Patrick Morrow playing Fluke, the drummer that famous night, and Corey Kaiser, portraying bass player Jay Perkins, Carl Perkins’ older brother. Moreau and his co-stars are a band that “just happens to be doing a Broadway musical,” Moreau said. Sam Phillips is portrayed by Vince Nappo.

The show’s eclectic score of rock, gospel, R&B, and country hits includes Blue Suede Shoes, Fever, Sixteen Tons, Who Do You Love?, Great Balls of Fire, Matchbox, Folsom Prison Blues, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, and Hound Dog.

Moreau believes his best moment in the show comes when he sings Walk the Line. “I feel like I'm in a totally different place,” he said. “It's a personal song to me, it was a personal song to [Cash], and I hope I do it justice. If I wanted somebody to judge my performance on one thing, it would probably be that.”

Million Dollar Quartet will be performed at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., March 20-21 at 8 p.m., March 22 at 2 and 8 p.m., and March 23 at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets range from $28 to $68 and are available online at theaterleague.com and stranahantheater.org, at the Stranahan Theater box office, or by calling 419-381-8851.

Send theater items to Sue Brickey at sbrickey@theblade.com.



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